LIFELONG fan Brandon Barker has more than one reason to want to do well against Manchester United.
The Omonia Nicosia winger faces his boyhood idols tomorrow night in the Europa League.
But after growing up in Manchester City’s academy, Barker has extra motivation to pull off an upset with the Cypriot side.
The 26-year-old told SunSport: “I spent 16 years at City — but I was always a Red growing up.
“When I was seven I was at United. However, it was quite far from my house so we opted to go with the City route and that’s how the change happened.
“After spending so much time there, I fell in love with Man City as well. When they play each other I try not to support anyone.
“It would be special to beat them as half of my friends are City, half are United.
“Nobody is expecting anything from us and rightly so — it’s Man United. But we will relish that.”
Barker, who helps run a Manchester-based pressure washer business in his spare time, was once regarded as one of City’s top home-grown prospects as a teenager after being named their academy player of the year in 2014.
He was hoisted up to first-team training under Manuel Pellegrini — and was regularly named among the substitutes before finally making his debut in an FA Cup fifth-round defeat to Chelsea in 2016.
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But his dreams of making it at the Etihad ended when new boss Pep Guardiola deemed him surplus to requirements and loaned him out to Dutch side Breda, Rotherham, Preston and then Hibernian in the space of three years.
Barker added: “It became a bit of a whirlwind. I did every age group at Man City and I was fairly confident I would make the step up — and when Pellegrini was there I was with the first team every day and coped with it really well.
“I was on the bench about 25 times so I must have been doing well. But with the change of manager I was out the door.
“You can’t get angry about that but then I was caught in the loan trap instead of forcing your way out.”
Barker signed a two-year deal with Omonia in June to link up with his former Hibs boss Neil Lennon, following an injury-plagued short-term deal at Reading last season.
And after scoring against Genk to secure their group-stage spot, the winger believes he is starting to recapture the form which raised a lot of eyebrows as a kid back in Manchester.
He said: “I’m here on a fresh slate. It has taken a lot of adjustment.
“I have found it tough on my body because I barely played last season. So it has just been getting back in the swing of things.
“I am still at a good age to crack on. I had a taste of European football in Holland but I was only 18 and not ready for it. Now I am at an age where I am in a ‘f*** it’ kind of moment.”
Barker admits lining up against childhood idol Cristiano Ronaldo will be a dream come true.
But he believes he and his team-mates will not be starstruck by United’s players, as he aims to give himself the perfect present after celebrating his 26th birthday today.
He added: “Any opportunity you get to grace a pitch with those sorts of players is always going to be special.
“Ronaldo is my greatest player of all time so it will be special for me as a United fan. But it is just a game and the boys will have their blinkers on and will do what we have been doing.
“It is a chance to put this club on the European map. We got the opportunity to play in the Europa League from a cup run. We have done the hard work to get here so we may as well go for it.”